JEDDAH: Saudis have been rallying around judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani as she prepares to take to the mat against Israeli athlete Raz Hershko at Tokyo 2020.
Al-Qahtani has chosen not to withdraw from the Judo Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 clash as a form of protest against Israel. The matter came to the fore after Algerian Fethi Nourine withdrew from the Judo Men’s +73 kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete.
Sports fans and leading media figures in Saudi Arabia, including writers, academics and celebrities, have taken to social media, particularly Twitter, to express their support for Al-Qahtani ahead of her Olympic debut on Friday, July 30 in the Nippon Budokan arena.
The 21-year-old has received huge backing for her decision, with many voices pointing out that the idea of the Olympics is to put aside political differences and take part in what is very often the pinnacle of an athlete’s career.
Ghadah Al-Ghunaim, board member of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, tweeted her support.
“Don’t quit, face her. Withdrawing is a fake victory. Whether you win or lose, you are a hero in our eyes. Good luck, the pride and joy of the country,” she posted.
Former professor in political sciences Dr. Turki Al-Hamad tweeted: “I hope that our Saudi heroine will not withdraw from the sporting event with the Israeli player and give her victory by simply withdrawing. It is a matter of sports in the end, and Israel will not go away with such a withdrawal.”
There was plenty of support for Al-Qahtani from fellow Saudi women, with project manager Lujain Al-Jehani saying she was pleased that Al-Qahtani is going ahead with the contest against Hershko.
“I think Tahani Al-Qahtani made the right decision not to withdraw the contest against the Israeli player. If she wants to support Palestine, she should simply stand her ground and win the game, and make a statement that way,” she told Arab News.
Highlighting the growing number of Saudi women in sports, she added: “Our country invested greatly in women so that they can participate in the Olympics. It’s something that we really should be proud of, to show how far we’ve come thanks to the Crown Prince’s social reforms. I hope she wins the game and I hope we win the gold medal for Judo.”
Radiologist Mohammed Al-Shehri said he is proud of Saudi women making it to the Olympics.
“I personally felt excited reading that Tahani is representing Saudi females in the Olympics, and in such a tough and physical sport,” he said. “It must have taken a lot of time, effort and dedication.”
“What I want to say to Tahani is that you have reached a stage where a lot of people dream of reaching, and this is just the start for you,” Al-Shehri said. “Forget all the pressure and just do it for yourself and for those who one day want to be in your place. Better than looking back at it and wondering what if.”
He also told her to stay strong and focused on the task ahead, adding “we are rooting for you and I wish you safety and victory during your journey.”
Hassan Al-Yamani, a Saudi quality control manager, said the Kingdom and its people have the right to be proud of the young men and women of their country.
“We are honored to be represented in this tournament by one of the ambitious girls and the symbol of courage and strength for this ambitious country, Tahani Al-Qahtani,” he said. “I hope that Tahani completes the competition and we all trust in God that she will achieve victory and reach the highest levels of the championship. All The best, congratulations to Al-Qahtani. Keep it up. All the Saudi people are with you.”